If there was a single Visual Novel series to recommend for newcomers to get into the genre, it’d have to be Zero Escape for blending complex puzzle solving gameplay and decision based visual novel storytelling. The Nonary Games is Spike Chunsoft and Aksys’ swan song for the trilogy; a re-release of the first two titles of the series, a complete HD remake of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, aka 999, the second title being an improved port of Virtue’s Last Reward.
Both 999 and VLR are set around the “Nonary Games”, involving 9 strangers trapped in a closed space. Each participant has a bracelet locked onto their wrists that can end their lives if they break the rules given by the mastermind known only as “Zero”. In 999 you play as Junpei, who wakes up on a mysterious cruise ship with 8 other people. They are given one goal: find a door with a【9】on it and escape the ship that will sink in 9 hours. Each bracelet has a unique number, and they must use different combinations to enter different numbered doors, solving escape the room puzzles along the way. If any person breaks Zero’s rules, a detonator will go off in that person’s bracelet, activating a bomb in their stomach. VLR has you in the shoes a new protagonist named Sigma, who wakes up in a different facility with 8 other people and is forced to play the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition. This death game features a voting system, where each person must vote to Ally or Betray against people they have worked with in puzzle rooms. The goal is to receive enough points from these AB games to get 9 points and escape the place. With a cast of mostly new faces, and a gigantic facility to escape from, Sigma has to make a copious amount of decisions that will decide the fate of his fellow participants.
The story sections stay engaging for the players, due to the plot’s masterful writing and puzzle pacing. In 999, the puzzle rooms are pre-rendered spaces you can move around in by clicking the L and R buttons to change your perspective. You interact with objects using either the touch screen or a pointer controlled by the left analog stick, a welcome addition inspired by VLR. VLR on the other hand, uses fully explorable 3D rooms, giving you more freedom in the puzzles you solve, and much more challenging puzzles as well. A new feature in VLR is the ability to switch between your held item with a flick of the right analog stick, a huge time saver. Sadly for touch-screen enthusiasts, the PS4 version ditches all touch control, using only analog stick movement.
When you aren’t in escape rooms, you’ll be seeing the story unravel and making choices to change the path you go down. 999 now has the story flowchart feature of VLR, allowing you to jump to different parts of the story; it’s convenient but it can get a little confusing to navigate it sometimes. However, since the original game made you start over every time you wanted to see a new ending, this is a welcome change. The flowchart removes the artificial length the original had from having to replay the entire game to reach different endings, and makes achieving the true ending less of a hassle.
One last new feature to note in the remake of 999 is the 2 modes of experiencing the game: Adventure and Novel. Adventure mode only shows the player lines of dialogue, similar to how the DS version’s top screen was utilized. Novel mode provides all the original narration from the DS version, and has text over the characters instead of a text box. They can be switched between at nearly every moment with just a press of a button. I spent most of my playthrough playing it on Adventure, and it was a great way to experience the story. Dialogue has been changed so Adventure mode can provide all the information players need, and the game changes to Novel mode if a scene requires the narration.
The environments in the 999 remake look crisp and incredible in HD, but certain sprites weren’t so lucky. The hardware limitations of the DS made 999’s original sprites incredibly pixelated, which is no longer the case; effort was taken to bring this art to current gen consoles. While some character art benefits from this, a couple sprites look unflattering. The art definitely shows it’s age, but stays faithful to the original Each character retains their charming animations from the 2009 release, which look even better with the cleaned-up art. VLR retains its 3D character models and environments are largely unchanged since the 2012 Vita release. This game’s content has remained largely untouched besides a couple typo corrections, those who opt for the PS4 version of this game shouldn’t expect incredible graphics. The game is running at a higher resolution and does have much smoother animation, but texture quality remains the exact same and might be jarring for those used to games made for PS4. I’m the kind of person that prefers these type of games portable, so that’s where I spent most of my time playing these and had no problem. It’ll really come down to preference, so if you prefer handheld or console you’ll be sure to still get a great experience.
The music is just as good as it ever was, and Shinji Hosoe’s tracks sound absolutely chilling. The soundtrack is constantly making you feel tense, rarely easing up. All the music tracks remain the same, but I couldn’t help but think that 999’s soundtrack had some improvements made to it. This is the first time 999 has had voice acting, while VLR launched with it. The ambitious second title in the series really set the bar with it’s phenomenal dub, even going as far to outshine the Japanese audio track, so there was a lot of pressure for the new dub of 999. Fear not: the dub is pretty great. There are still some awkward lines here and there, but once I got used to the voices I grew to love them. The two performances that completely stole the show were Junpei’s and Santa’s. Evan Smith returned from Zero Time Dilemma to voice Junpei, and he did a fantastic job bringing the fan favorite protagonist to life. Santa’s voice actor, Sean Chiplock, delivered an absolutely perfect performance. The entire cast does a good job, and overall there’s a great dub here. The games also carry a Japanese audio track, but I’ve never found the Japanese audio track in the Zero Escape games to be as good as the English ones.
Despite some very minor presentation flaws, The Nonary Games provides the definitive version of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward. There’s definitely more value here for newcomers to the series, but hardcore fans will definitely enjoy the update on the series’ first entry. I’d recommend getting it on Vita if you have the option, but the PS4 version is still great. It’s a wonderful package with some of my favorite games on them, and I can’t recommend this enough.
- With this definitive version, all three games now sit at the same level of quality, which is great because 999’s artificial length made it hard to recommend.
- If you get addicted to these two games, make sure to check out Zero Time Dilemma.
- A better name for this game would be: Zero Escape 2.5 HD Remix – Hope You Like Numbers
- Buy/Rent/Avoid: It’s a perfect package for people who haven’t had a chance to experience these fantastic games. Fans can also be pleased by improved versions of both, so everyone wins.
- I was filled with a childlike excitement while going through these again, and I truly hope this gets more people into this wonderful series.